Beautiful. Resonant. Comfortable. Balanced. Sweet. Loud! These were the words that immediately came to mind as I played the Santa Cruz HT/13 guitar for the first time. Initially based on a custom H/13 model, the HT denotes legendary roots guitarist and longtime Santa Cruz devotee Happy Traum. Players and luthiers alike discuss and debate the merits of 13-fret guitars; some feel they can illuminate the best qualities of 12- and 14-fret models with regard to projection, tone, and intonation.
All I know is that this guitar checks all the sonic boxes: sonorous, piano-like clarity; evenness of tone in all registers; and a controlled responsiveness balanced with cannon-like projection. With its detailed clarity and punch, the HT/13 immediately recalls the best vintage Gibson archtops I have played, and it will give a great dreadnought a run for its money in terms of sheer projection and volume. It responds like a high-end sports car, faithfully projecting the true nuances of your playing, whether using a flatpick, thumbpick, or purely fingerstyle.
The Back Story
Santa Cruz’s founding luthier, Richard Hoover, has a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Happy Traum. About 13 years ago, after many years of playing various vintage dreadnoughts, Traum commissioned an H13 model with an Adirondack spruce top and cocobolo back and sides. Traum notes that he loves smaller-bodied guitars and feels they project more clearly and are much more comfortable on stage and in a room than larger models such as dreads or jumbos. He later expressed interest in an all-mahogany Santa Cruz OM, which was then crafted from Victorian furniture Hoover was able to source. The combination of woods and features from these guitars prompted Hoover to start thinking of a new collaboration.
“About a year ago, Richard asked me about doing a signature model, and of course, I was thrilled with the idea,” Traum recalls. “I’ve always loved redwood, and Richard has an uncanny ability to source and find incredible old-growth wood from old train tunnels out West and other places.” Santa Cruz then created two versions of the HT/13 model: one with Honduran mahogany back and sides and another with Brazilian rosewood. While the standard HT/13 model currently comes with the redwood-mahogany combination, there are many custom options and upgrades that Santa Cruz Guitars offers, including tonewood choices and combinations. Traum notes, “I love the folks at Santa Cruz. It’s a small enough shop for them to really honor the integrity of building instruments for musicians, and the personal relationship that is available with a smaller business is wonderful.”
Beautiful Inside and Out
When I received and unboxed the review guitar, the first thing I noticed was the high quality Ameritage case, custom built for Santa Cruz Guitars. Featuring solid construction and quilted padding, the case elegantly meets the need for storage and road travel (though I would personally invest in a flight case for air travel with a guitar of this caliber).
The next thing I noticed was the HT/13’s handsome set of appointments—this guitar is a visual stunner. Featuring reclaimed old-growth redwood atop Honduras mahogany back and sides, it exudes a warmth and balance of aesthetics. With its 41-style ornamentation, the guitar features a striking abalone rosette and purfling, matched with a slotted peghead, contrasting ivoroid binding, and snowflake inlays on an ebony fretboard. The back and sides have a buffed tobacco finish, joined with a gorgeous multicolored backstrip. The neck also features a matte tobacco finish, with an exceptionally smooth finish to the hand. The beauty of the rich, earthy woods—complemented with ivoroid tuning pegs and binding, plus abalone appointments and tortoise pickguard—make for a guitar that is as pleasing to look at as it is to play.
The HT/13 is surprisingly lightweight. This is a small-bodied guitar that is extremely comfortable to play and hold, yet, the depth of its body and placement of the bridge contribute to a surprisingly big and rich tone. With a scale length of 25.375 inches, fans of OMs will feel right at home. And with the 1-3/4-inch nut and 2-3/16-inch width at the 14th fret, the HT/13 will easily accommodate both fingerstylists and flatpickers. Outfitted with Santa Cruz’s own Parabolic Tension strings (which I reviewed in the May/June 2019 issue), the action and setup were perfect right out of the case.
Whether playing single-note melodies, fingerpicking arpeggios, or strumming open-voiced chords, the HT/13 responds with bell-like clarity and a note separation that is almost addictive. This quality is certainly attractive to solo players and singer-songwriters, but will also benefit those who play in a band and need to cut through the mix with definition and shape to their notes. To put it simply, the guitar plays evenly and clearly all over the neck, stays precisely in tune, and exudes a balance even when mixing open strings with fretted notes—characteristics that can help take your playing to a higher, inspired level.
The Stuff of Dreams
Santa Cruz often advertises its guitars as heirloom-quality, and given my time with the HT/13, I would emphatically agree with this sentiment. The inherent qualities of this guitar easily warrant the investment aspect. A product review would typically conclude with pros and cons. The numerous pros are outlined above and throughout the accompanying video review. The cons? There are none. This is a world-class, handmade American instrument that will yield years—and generations—of pleasure and satisfaction to players of all styles and levels.
BODY Old-growth redwood top with Adirondack scalloped/tapered bracing; Honduran mahogany back and sides; abalone rosette and purfling; ivoroid binding; tortoise pickguard; hot-hide-glue construction; buffed tobacco nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK Traditional V profile; 25.375″ scale; 1-3/4″ bone nut; slotted peghead; ebony fretboard with Happy Traum signature inlay at 18th fret; ivoroid fretboard and headstock binding; nickel Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons; tobacco matte finish
OTHER Santa Cruz Parabolic Tension strings; deluxe Ameritage hardshell case
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MADE IN USA
PRICE $8,800 street as reviewed
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.